Radiation treatment planning determines what kind of radiation therapy a patient should receive and how it should be delivered. It involves cooperation from a number of team members who take a series of images of the patient which will be used to precisely calculate dose and delivery. A radiation therapist may supervise the process. During the planning stages, patients can ask questions about what to expect and different treatment options.
The best type of radiation to use can be determined when discussing the type of cancer and approximate location. Patients may be subjected to beam radiation, where an external beam is aimed at the tumor, or brachytherapy. In this second option, “seeds” are inserted into the body to deliver a dose of radiation. They may be left in place or can be taken out after a set period of time, determined in the planning process.
Patient positioning is extremely important with radiation treatment planning, to make sure the dose goes to the right spot. Planning may involve a simulation in the room where radiation is delivered. The patient is carefully positioned on a table with props to hold the body in position. This allows the team to take images of the patient’s body precisely as it will appear in treatment. Some facilities have movable imaging and radiation equipment, allowing the patient to lie in the same place for imaging and radiation for greater accuracy.
Tumors can be pinpointed in a visual reconstruction or virtual patient to program radiation equipment for precise targeting. Marks may be placed on the patient’s body as guides during radiation treatment planning. These can be made with markers or may be applied as small tattoos. They create targets for the radiation therapist to aim at. Radiation treatment planning can also include the creation of a mask molded to the patient’s head or another body part to immobilize it during treatments.
During the radiation treatment planning process, patients have an opportunity to see the room where they will receive treatments and meet some of the staff. If the environment feels claustrophobic or unpleasant, it’s important to bring these concerns up. It may be possible to adjust equipment or provide the patient with some medications on the day of the procedure to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Since remaining still during treatment is critical, it’s especially important to speak up if a position is uncomfortable or the patient worries it will not be possible to stay still for the duration of the radiation treatment.